The Hamilton Spectator

Metrolinx looks to expropriat­e 28 properties for light rail line

Owner of one building is already suing the agency over past failed land deal

- MATTHEW VAN DONGEN REPORTER MATTHEW VAN DONGEN IS A REPORTER AT THE HAMILTON SPECTATOR. MVANDONGEN@THESPEC.COM

Metrolinx plans to expropriat­e 28 properties on King and Main streets for LRT — including a municipal union hall that is already at the centre of a lawsuit against the provincial transit agency.

The agency, which is leading Hamilton’s off-again, on-again light rail transit project, has already purchased around 65 properties along the 14-kilometre route from willing sellers.

But Thursday, the agency published a list of properties it intends to obtain via expropriat­ion — the process of a public agency using the law to take ownership of land for a specific public benefit, even if the owner does not wish to sell.

Via email, spokespers­on Andrea Ernesaks said Metrolinx is having “ongoing, amicable conversati­ons” with building owners and will continue with “willing seller acquisitio­ns wherever possible.”

Project planners previously estimated 95 full properties would need to be purchased along the Main-King-Queenston corridor, parts of which feature a narrow right-of-way with many buildings tight to the sidewalk.

The agency said about 25 businesses are still operating out of the affected buildings. Metrolinx said it is working to help those business owners, as well as with residentia­l tenants to “find and secure new housing.”

The agency did not answer Spectator questions about how many tenants or homeowners are still living in the 28 buildings.

But more than 45 tenants had to relocate away from the train even before the end of 2019, according to Spectator reporting. Advocates argue the number is far higher — and they argue the province should commit leftover purchased property to affordable housing.

About two-thirds of the buildings on the expropriat­ion list are on King Street, mostly east of downtown. The remainder are on Main Street east of the Delta, aside from one on Queenston Road.

The buildings host residentia­l apartments, martial arts training, a laundromat, a pawnshop, a convenienc­e store, several restaurant­s and car dealers, among other businesses.

They also include the headquarte­rs for the City of Hamilton’s largest employee union, CUPE Local 5167.

The union for thousands of city workers still operates out of the 818 King St. E. building, said acting president Jason Lucas, even though on-and-off negotiatio­ns over the building with Metrolinx began as far back as 2016.

“To say it has been a long and difficult process dealing with them would be an understate­ment,” said Lucas in an emailed statement that outlined the union’s feelings of frustratio­n with the transit agency.

“This has ultimately forced us into a spot where we need to proceed with litigation to resolve (outstandin­g) matters.”

Because of that legal dispute, Lucas said he couldn’t comment on what the expropriat­ion process might mean for CUPE or whether the hunt is on for a new home.

“What I can say is that we’ll continue to do whatever we need to do to represent and provide service to our members,” said Lucas, who is filling in for president Jay Hunter, who is on leave.

The union originally launched a $2.5-million lawsuit against Metrolinx in 2020 — shortly after the first iteration of the LRT project was controvers­ially cancelled by the Tory government over budget concerns.

At the time, CUPE alleged the transit agency did not follow through on purchase negotiatio­ns for the hall at 818 King St. E. or an alleged offer to “reasonably compensate” the union for relocation efforts that had already occurred when the project was cancelled.

In court documents, Metrolinx argued no agreements were ever reached to buy the land or compensate the union for its attempted relocation. (The union was later forced to sell a building it had purchased and started renovating on Kenilworth Avenue North.)

The LRT project was resurrecte­d in 2021 with $3.4-billion in joint provincial-federal constructi­on funding.

Metrolinx was not immediatel­y able to comment on whether the lawsuit would delay expropriat­ion proceeding­s for the union hall.

Lawyer and expropriat­ion expert Shane Rayman, who represents CUPE as well as some other clients with property along the LRT line, said it’s difficult to say how long it will take for corridor lands to change hands.

The provincial transporta­tion minister still needs to sign off on the agency’s expropriat­ion applicatio­n, he noted.

But as of last year, the Building Transit Faster Act will allow for a quicker expropriat­ion process that cuts out “hearings of necessity” that were required in the past.

Metrolinx did not respond to a question about whether there is a deadline to obtain needed properties for the project.

Major LRT constructi­on was once expected to start this year — but officials have since said delays starting project procuremen­t mean that is no longer possible.

 ?? JEREMY KEMENY THE HAMILTON SPECTATOR ?? LRT project planners previously estimated 95 full properties would need to be purchased along the Main-KingQueens­ton corridor.
JEREMY KEMENY THE HAMILTON SPECTATOR LRT project planners previously estimated 95 full properties would need to be purchased along the Main-KingQueens­ton corridor.

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